When Mary Katherine Fechtel stood in front of the crowd at the Miss America pageant, there was only one way to introduce herself.
"I’m from the state where if you’re not a Gator, you’re Gator bait!" the 20-year-old cheered.
Fechtel has represented the Gators on the field as a UF Dazzler dancer, and Sunday she represented the Gators on the Miss America’s Atlantic City stage.
Fechtel made it to the Top 10 of the competition.
Now that Fechtel is back in the Sunshine State, the family, youth and community sciences major has put her last year on hold to tour the state, promote her Internet safety initiative and be a spokeswoman for the Everglades Foundation — all a part of her Miss Florida duties.
"As Miss Florida, the crown is a microphone," she said. "It’s amazing how kids listen to the outlet I’ve chosen and the platform I feel most passionate about."
She said she will return to UF for the Ole Miss football game Oct. 3 to crown Taylor Pohl, the first runner-up after Fechtel in February’s Miss UF competition, as the new Miss UF.
During the Miss America competition, Fechtel donned a shimmering aqua skirt and danced to the song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on live TV. And when she looked out into the audience, she said she saw about 60 signs held up for Florida.
"People believed so wholeheartedly that I could be Miss America," Fechtel said.
The main focus of the pageant was personal growth, she said.
However, she said one of her favorite parts was connecting with the other women in the competition.
"Learning from them and growing from them is what it was really about," Fechtel said.
On Saturday night, she wore Gator heels and a bright blue jumpsuit adorned with orange rhinestones.
The crowd cheered and Chomped.
One of Fechtel’s biggest supporters is her Kappa Delta sorority sister and good friend Rachael Keller.
Keller, 21, said the sorority sent Fechtel care packages with handwritten notes and a sorority sweatshirt.
"We shared her with the rest of the world for a little while," the 21-year-old business management senior said.
Fechtel said with her friends and family’s support, she wasn’t concerned with winning.
"There was such a peace and such a confidence in the entire experience as a whole," she said. "And just knowing that God’s will would be done, I didn’t have to strive or worry about what the outcome was."
Mary Katherine Fechel, 20, participates in the Show Me Your Shoes parade in Atlantic City Sept. 12, 2015, as a part of Miss America contestant traditions.Candidates wore shoes to represent their state. “It was such a testament that the Gator nation is everywhere,” Fechel said.